Arc'teryx PowderReport from Leukerbad, Switzerland (PA #2)

By -Patrick- on 20 December 2018 · 0

Powdertrips are roadtrips to begin with and these are the kind of occasions where anything could happen. Sometimes eyerything of anything you wouldn't ask for can happen in a single day. Why such days can still turn out to be positively memorable and entertaining at once is the escence of the adventure we had with PowderAlert #2. We travelled to Valais, Switzerland looking for untrackend powder and sun. We found both but there was so much more we came home with.

The Making of an Adventure

The second PowderAlert of the season was the storm we’ve been waiting for. The entire northern Side of the Alps was about to get hammered. So far, all significant snowfall occurred on the southern side of the Alps. Though the resorts in the East of Switzerland, Vorarlberg and western Tyrol were expecting most of the fresh snow, none of the resorts came into consideration. We wanted to combine Freeriding and Touring and needed a resort that already had a good base. Leukerbad and Lötschental are situated in the southern Bernese Alps in the Swiss canton Valais. The region had not only benefited from southern storms earlier in the season, but the weekend of our arrival was also the first time of the season the lifts were running for the public. Toby knew the perfect tour to make the most of PA#2 once the runs nearby the lifts were tracked. Starting from Hockenhorngrat at 3111 m we would traverse to Lötschenpass at 2690 m. Skinning up Gitzifurggu at 2912 m would have allowed us to descent back to Leukerbad. “Would have” because everything happened very much not according to our plans…

Back in snow again

On Saturday morning there was not a single sign of misfortune. The sky was crystal clear, the air was cold with -13 degrees and we even got a super early breakfast. We rode in one car from Leukerbad to Willer, which we wanted to pick up again in the evening with the second car. The first runs in Lötschental were absolutely fantastic. Only a handful of people were riding off-piste and the snow was great. The avalanche danger was absolutely manageable, because the snowcover had two clear nights and days to settle. If you wanted to hit a rock, you would’ve had to dig for it first. The base was solid, and the fresh snow was soft and cold. Snow had fallen under the influence of wind. This causes snowflakes to bump into one another while falling from the sky. The flakes making it to the ground are a bit more rounded then, resulting in a slightly denser top-layer. As a result, it wasn’t Cold Smoke Blower Pow on every turn, but at least every third or fourth, if you chose your line well enough. For it being mid-December, we were having an amazing morning with big Powder-smiles. There’s not much more to ask for when your first turns of the season are in pow under a bluebird sky.

Ain't talkin', just walkin'

Unfortunately, we were about to run into a couple of obstacles in the hours to come. On the third run an old injury came back and Lea couldn’t ski any longer due to hear backpain. Toby and I decided to still traverse to Leukerbad. We were in a hurry because getting Lea off the mountain cost a lot of time we had planned for touring. We felt sorry for Lea, but she saw the bright side of it. Now she would be able to spend the afternoon in Leukerbad’s thermal bath and we wouldn’t have to go pick up the car in the evening, because she was already driving it back to Leukerbad.

The snow was great for touring. Soft, but not that deep that you’d sink in knee-deep. A little further away from Hockenhorn we enjoyed fantastic views and still a lot of sunshine. Coming closer to Lötschenpass we felt the wind coming up for the first time. At the same time the terrain kept getting harder to handle. The storm a few days earlier had shaped huge sastrugi (wave shaped hard snow) in gullies and behind ridges. All frozen they were not really that easy to pass. This cost us a lot of time, because we had to keep our skins on our skis where we were hoping to just ski with a few turns. Occasionally, there was absolutely no snow. It had all been blown away. The storm must have been much stronger than we thought. Every time I had to walk instead of ski my spirit sank, but we kept going on. I was surprised to hear my phone ringing for I didn’t expect to get any reception in the middle of nowhere. It was Lea and she told me she was in a car accident. She was ok, but Toby’s car wasn’t. She started sliding on a snowy road picking up speed. Her only option to avoid more serious consequence was to maneuver the car against a wall.

Maybe it was the news of Lea almost getting hurt that made me reevaluate our situation for it wasn’t the coziest of all times. We were in the middle of nowhere to be found in mid-December at around two o‘clock in the afternoon. Every step in either direction was demanding, there was not a lot of daylight left, a decision had to be made. For the past week we barely spoke of anything but the amazing decent waiting for us behind that last ridge. Now that we could see the ridge, we had to admit there wouldn’t be enough day left to make it there. Toby is a very reasonable guy and that’s a quality I value the most in Powder-Buddies. I didn’t have to convince him at all. We both felt the stoke for riding the decent and getting amazing images on our cameras. But it was clear to us that this wouldn’t be worth the risk.

The way back to the resort was all Bob Dylan’s mystic garden: Ain't talkin', just walkin'. It was still pretty cold and the wind was picking up again and again. Though I have to admit we didn’t really feel any of that wind on our skins with our Arc’teryx Rush LT Jackets (read the full review) keeping the cold out. Luckily, we reached the resort in time for a final run in fresh snow. We even found an untracked slope traversing to the far-left side of Millibach. Quite unusual for late afternoon, but again it’s only the beginning of the season. We had just spent hours carrying heavy cameras and tripods on our backs without getting any shots, was this our lucky moment? I quickly set up a drone to fly and track us while riding. There were only a few minutes of sunlight remaining. Of course, the inevitable occurred and my phone froze making it impossible to maneuver the drone while riding. We lost the shot but enjoyed our final run on heavy legs. Heavy legs that were felt again next morning, when we managed to get the shots, we missed the day before. All that had to happen in little more than an hour, for we had a long drive ahead of us. This tour is not forgotten, there'll be another time where condition will allow us to traverse. Maybe we'll even be able to relax in the thermal bath then, instead of wating for the towing service.

As bad as it gets is as good as it is

If this sounds like a lot of effort in terms of planning, packing, organizing, being stuck in a car for an entire day, you might ask yourself why anyone would do this. But maybe you’ve had that same experience and know exactly why we still had a blast on this trip.

Back in the valley, we went to the first restaurant and ordered beers for the time we’d wait for being picked up. Toby’s car was already being towed back to his home and Lea was on her way to us with the second car. So much went wrong on this day but Toby and I couldn’t stop laughing and smiling. So much occurred that would qualify for making it a terrible day, but we were inevitably happy. The memories of bluebird powder turns were imprinted in our brains and muscles. This is possibly a hard thing to describe to someone who has never skied pow before. Such adventures bring back the smiles you last had as a child. These are playground moments brought back to an adult life. Feelings that we cannot endeavor enough for they are to rare to be found.


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